Aristotle, John Locke and other philosophers spoke of the Tabula Rasa, or Clean Slate. I find that to be such an apt definition for the United States.
This country, founded less than five hundred years ago, by European colonists who flocked to its shores, was a Tabula Rasa. And not until the Founding Fathers framed the Constitution did it have a clear structure through which to define itself and to begin writing its story.
Nonetheless, it was not only the land itself that the colonists viewed as a Tabula Rasa for they, themselves, became a Clean Slate and commenced to establish newer versions of Christianity, different traditions, rites, outlooks, social norms and all else that, over time, gave them a new character that was unlike that of the societies they originally came from and, in fact, was sometimes at odds with the ethos of those societies.
I think this is what gave America of those past eras its greatest strength, as well as built-in its utmost weakness. The strength of this nation lies in its incredible innovations and inventions; its derring-do spirit and sense of adventure; its optimistic and youthful outlook; in a sense of entitlement that it can, and will, be successful, and in the exuberant feeling of freedom from political, religious and societal constraints. However, and over time, this confidence and sense of entitlement transformed itself and became a domestic and international arrogant bully run by a corrupt political class swaggering its way from dictating the rules in our private bedrooms on to ordering the world what it will, and will not, be allowed to do and, hence, that built-in weakness. The result of that weakness, decades in the making, has been slowly and surely distressing this nation and the world.
While America and Europe were colonizing, modernizing, innovating and moving into the Industrial Age, most of the rest of the world was still in the Agricultural Age. And while the Western World was establishing the nuclear family structures, the rest of the world was conducting its affairs along the tribal structures that had served them well for centuries. These two different societal systems were bound to be at odds with one another. The Middle East has at least 5000 years of history. It is not a Tabula Rasa, neither is its long memory. The West, and America especially, does not understand how the intricate system of family relationships and ties based on the tribal ethic operates. Thus, even when they learn Arabic, let’s say, and think that they can now understand the Arab people and navigate their politics, they really don’t. For the language is just one small aspect of a culture; it does not encompass the entire gamut of a civilization, its intricacies, nuances, customs, history, achievements, frustrations, angers and structures.
Because of that, as well as other reasons (the threat of Communism and the need for oil, as two examples), we have created disasters in the Middle East that have been largely responsible for unleashing the mess that we now see playing itself out so horrendously . . . and now all of the European Capitals and Washington DC are scrambling to find a way of undoing some of that damage. They are organizing seminars, conferences, summits and meetings; experts are being consulted; programs are being designed; committees are being established to devise methods for combating terrorism and radical ideologies that had been simmering under the radar since the sixties especially, but that have now mushroomed.
While the US was “starting over” when it was being founded, the Middle East was continuing on its traditional path; managing its tribal connections that had sustained it for centuries; coping as best as it could with ruthless colonialism; hoping to emerge from that supercilious and cruel occupation of its lands and resources; looking forward to an era of independence and prosperity; and of, once again, sharing its historical and tremendous contributions to civilization, learning, astronomy, physics, mathematics, art and literature with the world.
It was not allowed to do that. Not for one day. As colonialism withdrew its armies, it left behind savage and more merciless watchdogs: Israel; constant meddling, clandestine operatives and conspiracies; as well as puppet regimes to do the West’s’ bidding. Thus, to say that the occupying armies of France and Britain withdrew from the Middle East and granted Independence to those countries is hardly the truth. Promising political movements were crushed. Assassinations of capable political leaders were authorized. The region was left open for corrupt (it didn’t matter as long as they professed to be pro West) politicians, drug and arms peddlers, war lords and gangsters.
So I was open-mouthed when I heard President Obama saying during the latest Summit on Terrorism that the Middle East cannot continue to blame the West for its problems. Seriously? Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and on and on passing through the entire region are Not due to our constant, meddling, orchestrating, warring and decimating? Israel has nothing to do with all this? Poof! All gone? In one sentence of a speech? Do the Western powers have collective amnesia when it comes to their destructive foreign policies?
Does all that absolve the region of assuming any responsibility in what has become of it? Of course not! There certainly are many problems, and one of the many ailing the Middle East is the humongous brain drain in the region. Due to all the turmoil, many intellectuals, thinkers, professionals and educated middle class nationalists whose presence could have continued to contribute to civilizing and democratizing the region fled. That responsibility is on us, the silenced, educated, professional class and on the guilty fact that we abandoned our compatriots in droves for the safe havens of the world. We put our comforts and safety ahead of our nations. How do we repatriate those citizens and how do we encourage a new, independent, free-thinking intellectual class, opportunities, as well as cultural and social channels to emerge and serve as a stabilizing force that can draw in the disenfranchised, despairing youth? Could this maybe be another one of the solutions? This is long-term planning, of course, some of which was presented at the seminars and summits put together by European and American politicians. These plans though, should have been happening at least since our disastrous invasions after 9/11.
Moreover, we ask ourselves, for instance, why three young British girls (and many other youngsters) would pack up and go to Syria to join ISIS. My answer is that today’s youth all over the world whether they join gangs in their home countries, or link themselves with other fringe groups and organizations, are merely doing so for lack of a “cause” that fires their imaginations and channels their wanderlust. They are not all bad elements. They are simply misguided, directionless youth; many of them feel neglected on their home fronts and unchallenged by their educational systems; drawn to the fantasy images of swashbuckling movie and TV characters and heroes of gaming videos; some are idealists. How do we engage them positively in the world around them; a world where they have no trust in political leaders, in religious institutions, in any civilized – and civilizing – structures? After all, we, the adults, have seen to the systematic destruction of most of these civilized structures on our planet as our politicians became more and more avaricious and corrupt and as economic disparities grew and, all our institutions were bared of their fig leaves exposing endemic dishonesty and hypocrisy. That prevalent rot of the leadership echelons at the top, which has greatly contributed to the disillusionment that is seeping and increasing throughout our societies, must be weeded out and replaced if we want to inspire the young with hope whether they are on the streets of America, Europe or the Middle East – and the sooner the better!
Does that mean nothing can be done immediately? Just leave it all to the radicals and terrorists to rampage, kill and burn their way through the region? Of course not!
Political maven, I am not. Military strategist, I am not either. So, no, I don’t have any answers. I simply hope that those doing the planning and strategizing will keep in mind the history that has brought us up to this point. Are they ready for that onus; to shed their deceit, their arrogance and corruption; to stop the interventions; to demand that the Israeli government cease and desist from its despicable, dangerous and vile policies in the entire region; to honestly reevaluate their defunct modus operandi?
It is a daunting project, to put it mildly. It is, though, doable if there is a genuine intent to do it.